Arthur C Clarke autographing all the way to the Great Beyond….?

Sir Arthur C Clarke’s death on 19 March 2008 inspired a tremendous amount of coverage and commentary in print, broadcast and web media outlets.

Among all these, one of the wittiest and funniest was this cartoon by Gihan de Chickera, appearing in Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka, on 20 March 2008.

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Gihan said it with a brilliant economy of words that Sir Arthur would surely have approved. In fact, Sir Arthur was a regular reader of the Daily Mirror (Colombo) right up to his death.

As someone who was part of Sir Arthur’s personal office for two decades, I can confirm how willingly and gladly he accommodated requests for autographs. If anyone bought a book of his, that was reason enough to sign it, the late author used to say.

He was aware that not all requests for signatures and book autographs were from genuine personal collectors. Some of them ended up being auctioned on eBay and other online trading platforms. That didn’t dampen Sir Arthur’s willingness.

In fact, he used to joke about it all, saying: “I have this vision that one day in the future, there’s an auction where a rare un-autographed Arthur Clarke book sells for an outrageous price!”

Purists might point out to our cartoonist that there’s a certain incongruity of Arthur C Clarke turning up in Heaven. He didn’t believe in an after-life of any kind – but was famously quoted as saying ‘I don’t believe in God, but I’m very interested in meeting Her!

Ah, to be a fly on the Heavenly walls when that encounter happens…

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TVE Asia Pacific says Thank You to Sir Arthur C Clarke

In his 1992 book How the World Was One, Sir Arthur C Clarke described a dream: one day in the near future, CNN founder (and then owner) Ted Turner is offered the post of World President, but he politely turns it down – because he didn’t want to give up power!

Just three years later, the then Secretary General of the UN suggested that CNN should be the 16th member of the Security Council. Sir Arthur was fond of quoting this, and once famously told Turner: “You owe me 10 per cent of your income”.

These references – illustrating the power of globalised satellite television – are recalled in TVE Asia Pacific‘s official tribute to Sir Arthur C Clarke, who passed away on March 19 aged 90.

“With the death of Sir Arthur C Clarke, TVE Asia Pacific has lost a long-standing friend and supporter,” the tribute says.

It adds: “Since our establishment in 1996, Television for Education Asia Pacific – to use our full name – has been engaged in pursuing Sir Arthur’s vision of using the potential of moving images to inform and educate the public. Our founders chose to focus on covering development and social issues, with emphasis on the Asia Pacific region – home to half of humanity and where Sir Arthur spent the last half century of his life.”

Although he never held a formal position at TVEAP, Sir Arthur was an informal adviser and mentor to the regional media organisation whose work across Asia Pacific is only possible thanks to the comsat that invented and the web that he inspired.

By the time TVEAP was created in the mid 1990s, the satellite TV revolution was well underway in the Asia Pacific region, and the internet revolution was just taking off. In informal discussions, Sir Arthur advised us to always keep our eyes open on what’s coming up. In the ICT sector, he cautioned, being too closely wedded to one technology or system could lead to rapid obsolescence.

The tribute mentions Sir Arthur’s specific support for the Children of Tsunami media project, and the Communicating Disasters publication.

We also talk about Sir Arthur’s concerns about using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to benefit the poor and other disadvantaged groups – a process that he aptly described as ‘geek to meek’.

We end by recalling how TVEAP recorded and uploaded to YouTube Sir Arthur’s last public video address – his 90th birthday reflections in December 2007.

Read TVEAP’s tribute to Sir Arthur C Clarke, 1917-2008

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Listen to our Planet in Distress: Arthur C Clarke’s Last Call

Author and underwater explorer Arthur C Clarke, who died last week aged 90, may not have been a placard-carrying, greener-than-green environmental activist. But in his own unique style, he supported a range of environmental concerns – from the conservation of gorillas, whales and dolphins (among his favourite species) to the search for cleaner energy sources that would enable humanity to kick its addiction to oil.

This interest was sustained to the very end. In his last public speech delivered a month before his demise, he stressed: “There has never been a greater urgency to restore our strained relationship with the Earth.”

The speech was an audio greeting to the global launch of the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE), held on 12 – 13 February 2008 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Sir Arthur provided the closing remarks for the 2-day meeting attended by diplomats, scientists and youth from all corners of the world.

In that address, which he had recorded from his sick bed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in early February, Sir Arthur said:
“The International Year of Planet Earth is being observed at a crucial juncture in our relationship with the planet. There are now clear signs that our growing numbers and our many activities are impacting the Earth’s natural systems, causing planetary stress.”

IYPE

He added: “We have had local or regional indicators of this stress for decades, and more recently we have confirmed our unmistakable role in climate change. If we’re looking for the smoking gun, we only need to look in the mirror…”

He outlined his wish for the ambitious IYPE, which is led by geoscientists around the world to raise more awareness and inspire action on understanding how our planet works. “I sincerely hope that the Year of Planet Earth would mark a turning point in how we listen to Earth’s distress call — and how we respond to it with knowledge, understanding and imagination.”

The full text of Sir Arthur’s greeting is found as a pdf on IYPE’s official website, which also offers the actual greeting as an audio file – but only in Apple Quicktime. For those who are not part of that limited universe, I reproduce Sir Arthur’s speaking text in full below.

I had the privilege of once again working on this text with Sir Arthur as I did for many years on various other video/audio greetings and essays. This was originally going to be a video greeting, but we decided to just capture it in audio as Sir Arthur was confined to bed with a back injury since early 2008.

Listen to the audio track on TVEAP’s YouTube channel:

Audio greeting by Sir Arthur C Clarke
to the global launch event of International Year of Planet Earth 2008
UNESCO Headquarters, Paris: 12 – 13 February 2008

Hello! This is Arthur Clarke, speaking from my home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

I’m very happy to join you on this occasion, when the International Year of Planet Earth is being inaugurated at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

I’m sorry that my health does not permit me to join you in person.
I have fond memories of attending major international conferences at UNESCO over the years. I’ve always cherished my close association with the organisation, especially since I received the UNESCO-Kalinga prize for popularisation of science in 1961 – a date that now seems to belong to the Jurassic era!

The International Year of Planet Earth is being observed at a crucial juncture in our relationship with the planet. There are now clear signs that our growing numbers and our many activities are impacting the Earth’s natural systems, causing planetary stress. We’ve had local or regional indicators of this stress for decades, and more recently we’ve confirmed our unmistakable role in climate change. If we’re looking for the smoking gun, we’ve only got to look in the mirror…

So there has never been a greater urgency to restore our strained relationship with the Earth.

In such a conversation, who speaks for the Earth?

Almost 30 years ago, my late friend astronomer Carl Sagan posed this question in his trail-blazing television series Cosmos. And this is how he answered it:
“Our loyalties are to the species and to the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring!”

I sincerely hope that the Year of Planet Earth would mark a turning point in how we listen to Earth’s distress call — and how we respond to it with knowledge, understanding and imagination.

My mind goes back to the International Geophysical Year, which was observed in 1957 – 58. Both the former Soviet Union and the United States launched artificial satellites during that period, thus ushering in the Space Age. Going to space was an important evolutionary step for our species – one that distinguishes our period in history from all the preceding ones. For the first time, we could look back on our home planet from a vantage point in space, and that gave us a totally new perspective.

The beautiful images of Earth from space inspired much public interest that led to the Earth Day and the global environmental movement in the 1970s.

Of course, I’ve suggested that ‘Earth’ is a complete misnomer for our planet when three quarters of it is covered by ocean. But I guess it’s a bit too late now to change the name to planet Ocean!

Fifty years after the IGY and the dawn of the Space Age, do we know enough about how our planet operates?

Thanks to advances in earth sciences and space sciences, we have unravelled many mysteries that baffled scientists for generations. We now monitor the land, atmosphere and ocean from ground-based and space-based platforms. Armies of scientists are pouring over tera-bytes of data routinely gathered by our many sentinels keeping watch over our planet.

We don’t yet fully understand certain phenomena, and there are still gaps in how we process and disseminate scientific knowledge. This is why, for example, the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 arrived without public warnings in Sri Lanka and many other coastal regions. Within minutes of the undersea quake off Sumatra, geologists and oceanographers around the world knew what was happening. But they lacked the means of reaching authorities who could evacuate people to safety.

For this reason, I’m very glad to hear that the Year of Planet Earth is placing equal emphasis on creating new knowledge and its public outreach. Today, more than ever, we need the public understanding and engagement of science. As UNESCO has been advocating for 60 years, public engagement is essential for
science to influence policy and improve lives.

In fact, with our planet under stress, we often have to act before we fully understand some natural processes. That is where we have to combine our best judgement and imagination.

We also need to change the way our resources and energy are used. Our modern civilisation depends on energy, but we can’t allow oil and coal to slowly bake all life on our planet. In my 90th birthday reflections a few weeks ago, I listed three wishes I dearly want to see happen. One of them is to kick our current addiction to oil, and instead adopt clean energy sources. For over a decade, I’ve been monitoring various new energy experiments, which have yet to produce commercial scale results. Climate change has now added a new sense of urgency to this quest.

So we face many challenges as we embark on the International Year of Planet Earth. I hope this year’s many activities will help us to better listen to our home planet, and then to act with knowledge and imagination.

This is Arthur Clarke, wishing you every success in this endeavour.

Earth Day Flag


Listen to the audio file on IYPE website (only with Apple Quicktime)

Arthur C Clarke: My Vision for Sri Lanka in 2048

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Sir Arthur Clarke, who died last week, was buried at Colombo general cemetery at his request. That ended a 52-year-long association the author had with his adopted home.

His interest in diving and underwater exploration led him to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he settled down in 1956. He pioneered diving and underwater tourism in Sri Lanka through his company Underwater Safaris, and played an active role as a public intellectual and as a patron of art, science and higher education. He served as Chancellor of Sri Lanka’s technological University of Moratuwa from 1979 to 2002.

Although he became the island nation’s first Resident Guest in 1975, Sir Arthur always remained a British citizen. The Sri Lankan government presented him the Lankabhimanya (‘Pride of Lanka’), the country’s highest civilian honour, in 2005. In December 2007, government officials, scientists, artistes and diplomats came together to felicitate Sir Arthur on his 90th birthday.

During the past few days, there was a good deal of coverage, editorialising and reminiscing in the Sri Lankan media about Sir Arthur, whom a former foreign minister once called a ‘one man cheering squad for Sri Lanka’. Most of this coverage looked back to recall the highlights and anecdotes of the sarong-clad, table tennis playing, myth-busting icon.

As Sir Arthur would have said, that was necessary – but not sufficient. His business was talking about the future and helping to shape it. So I dug up from my own archives a 1,100-word essay that I had written for The Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka a decade ago, for a series titled Sri Lanka in 2048. There, leading artistes, scientists and other public figures were asked to outline their personal vision for the year Sri Lanka would complete 100 years of political independence (the series marked the Golden Jubilee of this event).

Upon re-reading the essay, which was in Sir Arthur’s first person narrative, I found that it was still fully valid, and even more relevant a decade later than when it was first written. So I passed this on to Pramod de Silva, editor of The Daily News, the sister newspaper of the Observer, which ran it on 22 March 2008 – the day of Sir Arthur’s funeral. I found that quite appropriate – the physical remains were going on their final odyssey, but Sir Arthur’s vision would – hopefully – propel Sri Lanka to a better future for decades to come.

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Here’s how he opened the essay, My Vision for Sri Lanka in 2048:

“A guest must be careful about what he says of the host: contrary to popular perception, I am not a Sri Lankan citizen — only a resident guest. Yet, having lived here for 41 of my 80 years, I now regard this alone as home, and have visions and hopes for my adopted land.

“Half of all Sri Lankans alive today were not even born when, in December 1954, I had my first glimpse of the then Ceylon — when the P&O liner Himalaya carrying me to the Great Barrier Reef paused at the Colombo harbour for half a day. What I saw on a single afternoon tempted me to come back a year later to explore, and by the end of the 1950s, I had developed a life long love affair with the island.”

Taking stock of Sri Lanka’s already high human development indicators, Sir Arthur noted:
“It has been said that the biggest remaining challenge in terms of human health and welfare is not so much to add years to life, but to add life to years. For a country like Sri Lanka that has already achieved high levels of life expectancy and other impressive social indicators, this is indeed the next major challenge. The vision for the next fifty years should be to develop ways of improving the quality of life of all Sri Lankans. Difficult though it certainly is, such development will have meaning only if it is socially and environmentally sound.”

He then talked about two areas that were crucial for the socio-economic development of his adoptive land: energy and telecommunications. But he knew these physical improvements would not, by themselves, create a better society until and unless lasting peace could be achieved:
“The biggest challenge for all Sri Lankans in the coming century would be achieving better communications and understanding among the different ethnic, religious and cultural groups and sub-groups all of who call this their motherland. For material progress and economic growth would come to nothing if we allow the primitive forces of territoriality and aggression to rule our minds.

Read the full essay on the Daily News website

Related essay: Rebuilding after Tsunami: Sri Lanka’s challenges by Arthur C Clarke, January 2005

Photos by Rohan de Silva, Sir Arthur’s personal photographer

Arthur C Clarke: Of Nukes and ‘Impotent Nations’

The past few days have been particularly hectic for me as I was Sir Arthur Clarke’s spokesman for the past decade, and remain so for the time being. While handling literally dozens of media queries and requests from all over the world, I somehow managed to find the time to write an op ed essay on Sir Arthur’s life-long crusade against nuclear weapons.

This essay is based on a feature I wrote in 2002 for the now defunct (and sorely missed) Gemini News and Feature Service, but I rewrote it completely before sending it off to my newspaper editor and senior journalist friends across South Asia. It has so far appeared in full in:
Daily News (Sri Lanka), 22 March 2008
New Age (Bangladesh), 23 March 2008
The Hindu (India), on 30 March 2008
The News (Pakistan), 30 March 2008
Excerpts have been carried on the website of Himal Southasian (Kathmandu).

Here’s the 900-word essay in full with the Gemini illustration that accompanied my original article.

Arthur C Clarke: Of Nukes and Impotent Nations
by Nalaka Gunawardene
Colombo, Sri Lanka: 22 March 2008

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“Do you know about the only man to light a cigarette from a nuclear explosion?” Sir Arthur C Clarke was fond of asking his visitors a few years ago.

Clarke, the celebrated science fiction writer and space visionary who died on March 19 aged 90, loved to ask such baffling questions.

In this instance, the answer was Theodore (Ted) Taylor, a leading American nuclear scientist who designed atomic weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. Apparently he just held up a small parabolic mirror during a nuclear test — the giant fireball was 12 miles away – and turned light into heat.

“The moment I heard this, I wrote to Taylor, saying ‘Don’t you know smoking is bad for your health?'” Clarke added with a chuckle.

In fact, he took an extremely dim view of both smoking and nuclear weapons, and wanted to see them outlawed. But he was aware that both tobacco and nukes formed strong addictions that individuals and nations found hard to kick.

Years ago, Clarke had coined the slogan ‘Guns are the crutches of the impotent’. In later years, he added a corollary: “High tech weapons are the crutches of impotent nations; nukes are just the decorative chromium plating.”

Living in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey was acutely aware of tensions between neighbouring India and Pakistan – both nuclear weapon states.

British-born and calling himself an “ethnic human”, Clarke offered a unique perspective on nuclear disarmament. His interest in the subject could be traced back to his youth, when he served in the Royal Air Force during Second World War. As a radar officer, he was never engaged in combat, but had a ringside view of Allied action in Europe.

Shortly after the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the War, he wrote an essay “The Rocket and the Future of Warfare”. In that essay, first published in the RAF Journal in 1946, he said: “The only defence against the weapons of the future is to prevent them ever being used. In other words, the problem is political and not military at all. A country’s armed forces can no longer defend it; the most they can promise is the destruction of the attacker….”

Arthur Clarke’s continued his advocacy against the weapons of mass destruction to the very end. The lure and folly of nuke addiction is a key theme in his last science fiction novel, The Last Theorem, to be published later this year. He completed working on the manuscript, co-written with the American author Frederik Pohl, only three days before his demise.

From his island home for over half a century, Clarke was a keen observer of the subcontinent’s advances in science and technology. He personally knew some of the region’s top scientists – among them Indian space pioneers Vikram Sarabhai and Yash Pal, and Pakistan’s Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam.

When India carried out nuclear weapons test in May 1998, Clarke issued a brief statement saying: “Hindustan should be proud of its scientists – but ashamed of its politicians.”

He chided the mass euphoria that seemed, for a while at least, to sweep across parts of the subcontinent. He signed the statement as “Arthur C Clarke, Vikram Sarabhai Professor, 1980”.

That was a reference to three months he spent at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabd, in western India, lecturing about peaceful uses of outer space. It was the only time he held the title ‘professor’.

Clarke’s direct associations with India went back further. In the early 1970s, he advised the Indian Space Research Organisation on the world’s first use of communications satellites for direct television broadcasting to rural audiences. Preparations for the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) Project were underway when India carried out its first “peaceful explosion” of an atom bomb in 1974.

“I can still remember Vikram telling me how Indian politicians pleaded with him to ‘build a teeny weeny (nuclear) bomb’,” Clarke recalled in an interview in 2002.

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Cartoon: Indo-Pak nuclear and missile rivalry as seen by Himal Southasian

He returned to the subject when delivering the 13th Nehru Memorial Address in New Delhi in November 1986, which he titled ‘Star Wars and Star Peace’. He critiqued the Strategic Defence Initiative (which President Reagan called ‘Star Wars’) – a nuclear ‘umbrella’ over the United States against missile attacks. Clarke argued that SDI was conceptually and technologically flawed, and that its pursuit could hurt America’s lead in other areas of space exploration.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi rejoined from the chair: “Forty years ago, Dr Clarke said that the only defence against the weapons of the future is to prevent them from being used…. Perhaps we could add to that, we should prevent them from being built. It’s time that we all heed his warning….I just hope people in other world capitals also are listening…”

While campaigning against nuclear weapons, Clarke was equally concerned about all offensive weapons. “Let’s not forget the conventional weapons, which have been perfected over the years to inflict maximum collateral damage,” he said in a video address to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Pugwash Movement in October 2007. “If you are at the receiving end, it doesn’t matter if such weapons are ‘smart’ or stupid…”

As tributes to Arthur C Clarke from all corners of the planet confirm, he commanded the world’s attention and respect. His rational yet passionate arguments against warfare were heard, though not always heeded in the corridors of power and geopolitics.

For such people, he had the perfect last words from his own hero, H G Wells: “You damn fools – I told you so!”

Pugwash Movement on the death of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Arthur C Clarke embarks on his Final Odyssey…

AFP/Getty Images

Sir Arthur C Clarke’s funeral was held on March 22 afternoon in a manner that he would have approved: no decorations, no gun salute or any other governmental involvement, no religious rites of any kind, and no funeral orations.

Both his families – the Clarkes and Ekanayakes – were present, as were hundreds of his friends, fans and Sri Lankans from all walks of life. The local and international media bore silent witness. The Sri Lankan police and army soldiers stood by, in silent salute.

Everything went according to plan, and there was no commotion or chaos. Even the weather was cooperative: it seemed as if friends in high places ensured that afternoon thunderstorms that have characterised most of March in Colombo didn’t happen.

Tamara Ekanayake, the second daughter of Hector and Valerie Ekanayake – Sir Arthur’s adopted Sri Lankan family – made a single, short and passionate speech.

She said:
“You gave your time, your undivided attention and most importantly love to those around you so readily.
We thank you for the times you listened; we thank you for the times you laughed; we thank you for more than you could imagine.”

She added:
“As family, we feel so privileged that you left your mark on us. Your footprint will never fade, if anything it will only magnify what we do.”

Tamara also revealed what Sir Arthur had wanted on his tombstone:
Here lies Arthur C Clarke
He never grew up
But didn’t stop growing.

Goodbye, Uncle Arthur – Read full text of Tamara Ekanayake’s tribute
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As wished by Sir Arthur, the funeral was short, secular and devoid of any pomposity that so often characterises Sri Lankan funerals. It was all over in a few minutes.

Sir Arthur’s final odyssey also united all of Sri Lanka’s radio and TV channels, who observed one minute’s silence from 3.30 to 3.31 pm on March 22, even as the author’s burial was underway. Although this unity lasted for all of 60 seconds, it was no mean feat, as the cacophony of over 16 terrestrial channels and more than two dozen FM radio channels almost never speak in one voice (which is to be celebrated as media pluralism). The request for this minute came from the Sri Lankan government whose offer of a state funeral was earlier politely declined by the late author’s family (as he wished no involvement by either British or Sri Lankan governments).

Many international news wire services and websites have carried stories about the funeral. See, for example:
ABC Australia coverage
Reuters AlertNet story
AFP story

AFP Getty Images photo

AFP/Getty Images photo shows Sir Arthur’s younger brother Fred Clarke paying his respects to his illustrious brother on March 21.

Images courtesy AFP/Getty Images as available on Daylife.com

As Sir Arthur’s spokesman, I also want to thank all our friends in the media – journalists, producers and photojournalists from national and international media – for their interest, cooperation and solidarity in the past few days. Yes, they chased me like a pack of newshounds day and night, but it was all in the line of duty. And I hope they were happy with how I did mine – being always available, willing and forthcoming with information, voice cuts, TV soundbyes and image access.

Image courtesy Daily Mirror Online

Moving Images salute to Arthur C Clarke: 1917 – 2008

Sir Arthur C Clarke, 1917-2008: The Final Goodbye from Colombo

Later blog post on 23 March 2008: Arthur C Clarke embarks on Final Odyssey

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‘This is Arthur Clarke, saying goodbye from Colombo….’

This was the characteristic signing off Sir Arthur C Clarke used whenever he made a video greeting to an international meeting on some important issue somewhere on the planet.

From disarmament and new communications technologies to space exploration and conservation, he would offer the uniquely Clarkian take on the subject – in his witty, insightful and funny style.

I have worked with and for him for half my life – 21 years – as part of his personal office in Colombo, Sri Lanka (not to be confused with the government-run Arthur C Clarke Institute which he had nothing to do with). In that time, I helped film a significant number of video greetings to gatherings of the world’s movers and shakers.

Some of these were assemblies of sombre men and women in suits at the United Nations, Davos or Pentagon. Sir Arthur would deliberately poke fun at the pomposity and self-importance of these types, in a way that they could still laugh – even at their expense.

Other events were less formal, but no less important: glittering gatherings of Hollywood or Silicon Valley professionals – some of who have more ‘soft power’ worldwide than military generals or secretary generals. Again, he would challenge the boundaries of imagination of these professionals whose mega-billion industries were built largely on imagination.

In all these and more, Sir Arthur demonstrated another quality: the great economy of words. He hardly spoke for longer than ten minutes, or 600 seconds. The Grandmaster of the Soundbyte that he was, he knew just how to pack the right mix of power, fun and sense of wonder into each second.

Confined to a wheelchair in Sri Lanka – the country he adopted – in later years due to Post Polio, Sir Arthur used either satellite links or the web to connect to many important scientific, literary and entertainment gatherings in far corners of the planet.

And yes, he did often remind his eager listeners that he invented the communications satellite in his spare time in 1945 – and one of short stories (Dial F for Frankenstein) inspired a British computer scientist to invent the world wide web.

When Sir Arthur said his Final Goodbye from Colombo in the early hours of 19 March 2008 at Colombo’s Apollo Hospital, there was no global witness. He was in the company of just five people – comprising family and staff.

Aptly, however, the news of his demise went right around the world at the speed of light thanks to the comsat and web. In less than an hour, the whole world knew.

And now its the world’s turn to say Goodbye to its most trusted ‘Man in the Future’. The world remembers, salutes and celebrates his genius, humanity and imagination.

In doing so, many have turned to the last video greeting that Sir Arthur made, just a few days ahead of his 90th birthday (16 Dec 2007). This is about how that video was made.

For once, there was no specific invitation from anywhere. But for several weeks running up to his birthday, we had seen considerable media and fan interest on how he feels like completing 90 orbits around the Sun.

So in the last days of November 2007, I suggested to Sir Arthur that we should film a short video message – openly addressed to the whole world, sharing his reflections on turning 90. He liked the idea, and as has been the custom in recent years, asked me to draw up his speaking points.

I spent several days going through dozens of his essays and speeches, both published and unpublished. When I had a draft, we worked long and hard on it to get everything just right. I saw how he could still ‘Clarkise’ any piece of writing, which showed no sign of wear and tear for the 90 orbits.

This was a ‘no-budget’ production. Sir Arthur’s personal photographer Rohan de Silva had done many video greetings using a home video camera, but he and I agreed that this should be done more professionally. I mentioned the idea to our friends at Video Image (Private) Limited, the country’s top production company who had filmed with Sir Arthur for so many global TV channels and international clients. They immediately agreed to do it – for free.

We didn’t have a tele-prompter, but realised the importance of Sir Arthur looking straight at his audience. So in just a couple of days, Brian Ratnasekera of Video Image improvised a working unit.

I directed the shoot with Video Image crew on 5 December at Sir Arthur’s home. Allowing several breaks for him to catch his breath, our filming took the better part of that morning.

The filming got off to a bumpy start. First the improvised tele-prompter had some teething problems, but these were quickly sorted. Then, in a very rare moment of disagreement, Sir Arthur said he wanted to be filmed wearing his Nehru jacket (which he affectionately called ‘My Doctor No suit’).

We had already donned him in a colourful bush shirt and crew and I felt that this was the right attire for a message that was intensely personal and somewhat wistful. The shirt with large prints was far more characteristic of Arthur C Clarke than any formal suit. At that moment, I was the shoot’s director and not his long-standing spokesperson who would be more agreeable with his views and wishes.

A few tense moments passed. Then one of Sir Arthur’s valets had a brainwave. Why not use the casual NASA jacket that Sir Arthur often wore when he felt the air conditioning was getting a bit too cold?

That saved our shoot. He compromised, trading Nehru for NASA. Within seconds, he was back to his normal cheerful self. When the shoot got underway, he was at ease, speaking right to the camera and looking straight at millions of unknown viewers who would watch it for years to come.

Reading our text scrolling gently upward on the tele-prompter, he missed out just one word out of nearly 900. We only needed to do a single re-take. That was impressive for a man who’d recently had cataract operations in both eyes.

In the end, I knew we had a great piece – one where he looked back at a most remarkable career of our time, and looked forward to what lies in store for humanity.

Over the next two days, my colleagues at TVE Asia Pacific did a simple edit – stringing together the few segments he’d filmed with breaks in between. Our IT Specialist Indika Wanniarachchi uploaded it to TVEAP’s YouTube channel on 9 December 2007. The next day, VideoImage uploaded it to their YouTube channel.

This itself made some international news and and soon became a hit on YouTube.

Read the full transcript on TVEAP website

After surveying what has, by all measures, been a highly remarkable life and the astounding rate of technological development he has witnessed, Sir Arthur listed three ‘Big Wishes’ that he wanted to see happen – ideally in his life time (alas, that was not to be).

Finally, he offered some personal views on posterity – a subject on which he’d been ambivalent at times.

This is perhaps the most consequential of his birthday reflections. In his own words: “I’m sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer – one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well.”

He ended the message by quoting another English writer — who, coincidentally, also spent most of his life in the East — Rudyard Kipling:
“If I have given you delight
by aught that I have done.
Let me lie quiet in that night
which shall be yours anon;

And for the little, little span
the dead are borne in mind,
seek not to question other than,
the books I leave behind.”

That’s also how he ended his 9-minute birthday video – but upon reflection, it seems to me that he used that to bid a fond farewell to his millions of fans and readers worldwide. Perhaps his famous crystal ball told him something…

He signed off: This is Arthur Clarke, saying Thank You and Goodbye from Colombo!

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And this is Nalaka Gunawardene, saying Thank You and Goodbye to Sir Arthur. It was the greatest privilege of my life to have worked with you.

Photos by Shahidul Alam, Drik Picture Library, taken in Sir Arthur’s study in Colombo in Feb 2007

Read Shahidul’s recollections: Venturing into the impossible


Posted on 23 March 2008: Arthur C Clarke: Of Nukes and Impotent Nations

Posted on 23 March 2008: Arthur C Clarke: My Vision for Sri Lanka in 2048

One year of blogging: Looking back and forward

Today, 17 March 2008, this blog completes one year online.

It was a year ago today that I wrote my first blog post, Children of Tsunami go to go Washington, from Alexandria, Virginia, USA, where I was staying with a dear friend while attending the DC Environmental Film Festival.

Some 366 days, 213 posts and over 63,800 page visits later, I can say it’s been an interesting – sometimes exhilerating – ride. I will expand on this post as soon as I have a chance, but for now I want to say Thank You to all my readers, and especially those who joined in our on-going conversation.

Moving Images was not exactly my first blog – in late 2006 I had started another blog called Communicating Majority World under the name ‘Lost Alien’, which I somehow didn’t sustain for more than a few weeks and a handful of posts. For reasons that I can no longer quite clearly recall, the Lost Alien abandoned his blog – and migrated over here!

I can only hope that some alien friends are among my current blog’s visitors…

The Meatrix Reality: Mixing animation, activism and spoof

When I gave up eating all meat nearly 15 years ago, I had some explaining to do.

Breaking away from the pack is never that easy. Friends and colleagues wanted to know if I had suddenly gone religious (most certainly not: I practise no religion and frown upon all); or become an animal-hugger (well, not quite); or if I was too sick to eat a ‘normal diet’ anymore.

That last one was closer to the truth. I became a partial vegetarian because I wanted to stay healthy. I realised how unhygienic meat production and distribution were in my part of the world, and yes, I was also sensitive about the excessive cruelty to animals who end up on dining tables.

And it’s not just in Asia that organised meat production is increasingly hazardous to human health (not to mention the untold suffering by farm animals and the growing power of big agri-business companies). Animal rights and environmental activists have been pointing these out for years. And as powerful documentaries like Fast Food Nation (2006) documented, it is not only meat that’s crushed in the powerful mincing machine, but the whole of society.

But just how do we carry this message to the young Digital Natives who are the most eager consumers of meat and fast food? As we discussed some months ago, the big challenge is to take complex development issues in the right durations (shorter the better) and right formats (mixed or pure entertainment).

The Meatrix Moopheus

I was delighted, therefore, to belatedly discover the innovative and insightful series called The Meatrix. Funnily, I heard about it from two sources almost at the same time. A Malaysian activist I was visiting in Georgetown, Penang, last week highly recommended it. Two days later, my colleague Manori Wijesekera returned from having screened one of our own films at the 16th Earth Vision Film Festival in Tokyo – where The Meatrix was a finalist in the children’s environmental film category.

The Meatrix is an animated spoof on The Matrix trilogy (1999 – 2003). It uses humor and thinly veiled characters and situations from the original Matrix films to educate the uninitiated about factory farms.

Evidently, it was made with the blessings of the Wachowski brothers who created the science fiction thriller series. The first animation, The Meatrix, starts when Moopheus the Cow finds Leo the Pig at a family farm and informs him that corporations are taking over the way farms used to be. By taking the blue pill, Leo can remain at ease in his current situation, or by taking the red pill, Leo can see just how far the rabbit hole goes. (Of course, the good Leo takes the red one.)

Watch the first animation on YouTube:

In this case, the Meatrix is the illusion created by big time agricultural corporations who have taken over most family-run farms in the west, and turned them into ruthless factories producing meat and dairy products. Those who take on the Meatrix – at grave risk to their life and limbs – reveal how these factory farms are pumping steroids, antibiotics and growth hormones to maximise production, exposing unsuspecting consumers to major health risks like mad cow disease and antiobiotic resistance.

There are two short sequels to the original Meatrix: The Meatrix II: Revolting, and The Meatrix II½. They all pack action, suspense and even a bit of romance….just like the Matrix films did. And all the Meatrix animations are under five minutes in duration – just right for the fast media generation!

The Meatrix is collaboration between GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment) and Free Range, a cutting-edge design company with a social conscience. It’s the mission of GRACE to eliminate factory farming and to preach the message that sustainable agriculture is both a better environmental and economic choice for rural communities.

In February of 2003, Free Range developed the Free Range Flash Activism Grant, offering the prize of a flash movie production to forward the work of a worthy nonprofit. GRACE was the first recipient, in recognition of its important work on farm reform.

When The Meatrix I launched in November 2003, the viral grassroots film broke new ground in online advocacy, creating a unique vehicle in which to educate, entertain and motivate people to create change. The Meatrix movies have been translated into more than 30 languages and are now the most successful online advocacy films ever with over 15 million viewers worldwide.

Read more about the creators of The Meatrix.

Read more about healthy farm products – information from Sustainabletable

Get involved – what you can do to stop the Meatrix from marching on and on to restaurants and homes of the world

The Meatrix animations and the interactive website built around them are fine examples of crossing the other digital divide (between Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives) that I have been writing about. This is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) with none of the pomposity and preaching of UN agencies and other development organisations who are, sadly, trapped in their own version of a Verbiage Matrix where text, text and more text seems to be their whole reality.

It’s time some of our development friends took a red pill to see what lies outside their charmed and illusory circles.

PS: By the way, I still eat fish and other seafood, largely because on my frequent travels in Asia I turn up in places where being a complete vegetarian is simply not realistic (try Korea, for example). I now say I eat only those creatures that swim, but none that walks on land. One of these days, I will give up temptations for all flesh…